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The Odd Couple
January 20th, 2010

The challenge and joy of adopting an adult Irish Setter
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by Golda Hukic-Markosian

I never believed dogs were capable of feeling strong "humanlike" emotions, like sadness, until I witnessed my own dog, Kiki, becoming depressed.

Kiki had a friend, the neighbor's dog Deacon. They spent their days playing in the backyard during summer and chilling in the house during the winter. We took them on walks together. They barked at passing dogs together. They simultaneously requested pettings from the neighbors -- even the mailman. They were a true couple.

After about a year Deacon moved away and Kiki became very sad. She spent all day lying in one spot. Nothing could cheer her up. She didn't care about other dogs intruding on her territory -- not even the mailman (her favorite). We concluded that she needed a new friend.

Louie and Kiki Irish Setter
Louie and Kiki

One Saturday we went to a Super Pet Adoption. All three of us were shocked by the caged, abandoned dogs and their extreme behavior. They were either too sad or too aggressive. Kiki was freaked out. She was pulling her leash trying to escape. Just when we gave up on finding a new pet, Kiki approached an old Irish Setter and smelled him. That was the sign we needed. We took the dog for a two week foster trial period.

At home we realized that the new dog was even sadder then Kiki. Louie was seven years old. He was simply dropped off at the animal shelter after his owners divorced.

It seemed that he was still going through separation anxiety. He would get attacks where he tried to breathe but couldn't get enough air. To me these short episodes looked more like panic attacks than allergies which he was diagnosed with. The first night none of us could sleep. Louie was pacing through the house. In the morning I was mad at myself for adopting another dog. I looked at him and he was the opposite of my beautiful golden retriever. He was clumsy. His fur didn't have a shine. He was nervous, and most importantly he didn't have a personality. I decided to give him a couple of weeks to adapt. After all, the poor dog went through hell and deserved a second chance.

At first Louie absolutely refused to eat my home cooked meals that I am so proud of. He would look with disgust at his bowl full of meat and vegetables. My feelings were definitely hurt. Later on he scored some points when he decided that it was better to eat what I gave him than to starve to death. In a week he was eating his food with the same enthusiasm as Kiki.

To our disappointment, Louie and Kiki wouldn't play. Our intentions were to find a friend for Kiki; a perfect replacement for Deacon. We hoped that the dogs will immediately like each other but it seems that the social behavior of dogs is more complicated than we imagined. Both dogs were stuck in their own sadness and showed no interest in each other.

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The pleasant surprise came when we took Louie for a walk. Here I must praise the invention of the double leash. Since I am a 115 lb woman who doesn't want to be split in half by two 70 lb dogs pulling in opposite directions, I bought a double leash. That was the most rewarding dog-related purchase I ever made. Louie was pulling forward and Kiki didn't have time to plop down and smell the roses. hat was an obvious advantage of having Louie.

The new dog attracted the attention of neighbors and regular dog walkers. They all agreed that Louie was not a good replacement for Deacon, because Deacon cannot be replaced. Deacon and Kiki were a perfect couple.

However, this clumsy dog who reminds me so much on Big Bird from Sesame Street already made a place in our hearts and we didn't want to give up on him.

Now, after just a few months, Louie is not recognizable. He doesn't act like an old dog anymore. His back straightened up. His fur looks much better. He is an amazing runner -- better than Kiki and I combined. He loves whatever I cook for him (big plus). He plays with Kiki and loves to cuddle with me on the couch. His allergy/anxiety attacks are almost gone. He definitely shows his personality by complaining if breakfast is not on time or his walk is delayed. Just like people, it seems that dogs can also recover from sadness and loss. But do they forget their hardship completely? With Louie one thing still remains, he continues to run in his sleep: maybe toward his previous owners with whom he spent seven years of his life.

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